What would you do if you were nearing the end of your career as a crook, but there was one juicy score left for you and your fellow rogues to pull off? That’s a question that Josh Williamson and Leomacs are exploring in next week’s Rogues, a new limited noir heist series from DC Comics published under their DC Black Label label.
The four-issue series focuses on Captain Cold, aka Leonard Snart, who has gone straight and works in a box company where he’s ridiculed at every turn. Still, he hasn’t forgotten about one big score that got away, and soon pulls together a team of reluctant rogues for one last job that could very well turn his fortune forever. The problem is, said score sits inside Gorilla City, controlled by super-villain Gorilla Grodd himself, a ruthless boss of the largest crime syndicate on Earth.
Williamson sat with comics press earlier this week to discuss the creation of the series, which has been percolating in his mind since 2016. The idea for Rogues was his first pitch for The Flash when he took over the series, but due to conflicts with Rebirth, as well as the story naturally not being a Flash-focused story, the series sat on the back burner. Years later, with DC Black Label offering creators a chance to tell different stories apart from continuity, the possibility of the story working came back into focus and is now coming to comic shops in a prestige extra-sized format.
The story is very much a heist tale, and Williamson looked to the best when thinking about how to craft the greatest score ever in DC Comics.
“I looked at Parker a bit,” he said. “And then with movies, you know, the obvious stuff like Heat and Ocean’s 11. I looked at a lot of like Double Indemnity. I looked at a lot of like older noir movies.”
The timing couldn’t be better for Williamson, who has become the ringleader of massive events like Shadow War and the upcoming Death of the Justice League as well as contributing to continuity-heavy series like Justice League Incarnate. Although the script for Rogues has been complete for over two years now, Williamson said writing a series apart from continuity is a relief and offers more freedom.
“I’m already really obsessed with the DC Universe in its continuity, knowing what’s going on all the books,” he said. “So I was always able to reflect on everything. I have five whiteboards in my office. I probably look like a crazy person here trying to keep track of everything. I am really trying to map out all of these books, what’s happening with all of these characters, where they’re at in the story, it’s a lot.”
With Rogues, Williamson doesn’t have to worry about other books, which is a common factor when writing something like Flash.
“When you’re working in the main universe, you’re not just thinking about your book, you’re thinking about the universe at the same time,” he said. “And that’s a balancing act, right?”
He added, “I was talking to Grant Morrison about this a few weeks ago, talking about some of the events stuff. They were giving advice on how you juggle all those plates and how you keep everything on track. And it can be very intense to do that. When you’re doing a book like this, where it’s just four issues it’s gonna be self-contained, has a beginning, middle, and end. When you’re working in the main universe, you’re kind of always-on act two. You can kind of get close to act three, and kind of skirt around act three a little bit, but there’s always an epilogue there’s always and a ‘to be continued,’ right? Like it always is to be continued no matter what. Very rarely do you get an ending.”
In Rogues, Williamson gets to focus not only on Captain Cold but the heist aspect of the story too. In fact, Snart was Williamson’s favorite thing to write, explaining, “I almost wish I could have spent a little more time with him down on his luck in the beginning.” There are other elements too, like bringing the gang back together after a 10-year jump in time.
Many fans are going to be excited a character like Snart gets the focus since he is by definition a supervillain. The complicated nature of writing Snart comes down to whether he’s a sympathetic character.
“I think in some ways, the idea of being stuck in a job, I’ve definitely had jobs that I haven’t liked,” Williamson said. “It goes beyond that, the idea of just feeling stuck. I grew up with a lot of economic anxiety. And I still have it in a lot of ways. And I feel like, that’s how a lot of the characters are in this, like, it kind of comes down to, there’s a bit of class stuff and things involving the idea that, because they’re criminals, there’s not much they can do.”
Williamson admits Snart does some terrible things even within the first issue, which will complicate readers’ relationship with the character.
“Gradually over it, you’re going to feel sympathy for him, and then you’re going to hate him,” he said. “And then you’re going to feel sympathy for him again, and then you’re going to really hate him. That’s how I feel like this book is gonna go.”
Having worked on creator-owned titles like Nailbiter and Birthright, Williamson is no stranger to the adult themes you simply can’t tackle in the mainline DC Comics titles. But as a DC Black Label book, creators can go much darker and more adult in their themes.
“With this, there was a certain level of freedom that I felt telling a different kind of story,” he said. “With a Flash book and with most DC books, I think there’s certain expectations of what that book should be. I think this is always sort of a conflict at DC is, what a book should be versus what a book can or could be.” That, and there’s the fact that DC Black Label allows for more pages allowing for “a lot more freedom with just a kind of slower tone.”
Fans expecting Superman or Batman sightings should expect nothing of the sort in Rogues as its all about the bad guys. Williamson said bluntly we won’t see superheroes because this is not that kind of book and, most importantly, “We don’t really deal with it because it wasn’t important to the story that we were telling.”
Rogues can be purchased in comic book shops on March 22.
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